In the world of Italian football, there are few players more legendary than Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero. The star forward played for ‘la vecchia signora’ for 19 years while racking up titles and helping bring the World Cup back to Italy in 2006.
Del Piero’s post-football career has included stints on TV as a pundit and analyst for ESPN, but also as a budding restaurateur. His love of food, which seems almost innate as an Italian, has translated to a bustling trattoria in the heart of Los Angeles.
Wanting to know more, Fine Dining Lovers caught up with the famous footballer to chat about his year in the pandemic, his restaurant N10 in LA, and his outreach and charity work in the community.
Tell us a little about your background and your journey in football.
I was born in a little town in the country north of Venice and I was raised there until I was 13. At that time, I moved to another city by myself, about 70 miles away, to follow my dream and my passion for football. I was living with other kids like me and spent five years there until I was 18. My parents would come to visit once a week or twice a month depending on their work schedules. We weren’t poor, but they didn’t have enough money to just move and follow me.
Of course, there were a lot of challenges, but I really love football and I was following my dream. Then, when I was 18, I moved to Torino to play with Juventus, who are considered the best Italian team in terms of history, and basically my dream came true. I started playing right away and we had an amazing number of victories, including winning the championship for the first time in nine years. Then we won the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup. In all, I spent 19 years with the team, which is really a long time to stay with one club.
The last thing that I have to say about my career is about the 2006 World Cup that we won for Italy. It's the best achievement that a football player can get, and it's an amazing, historical moment for everybody. You are part of 23 players who can celebrate that moment every four years. A very small elite number of people in your life that can say that. It's so difficult, but that's why it's also so fascinating. And when you have the possibility to play in the most important sports event in the world that is seen by 2.5 billion people, that’s when the dream really comes true.
After all that time with Juventus, how did you make it to Los Angeles?
When I was 37, I went to Australia to play for a couple of years, and this was a completely different experience to discover the world in different ways. I also started working in television and participating in events all around the world. After two years in Australia, I landed in LA, which was always a place that I liked to visit, and I had connections with a number of friends here. Part of the reason why I moved here was for my kids, to open their minds in a different way and discover the world in a different way. LA is very multicultural, but we also go back to Italy for three months in the summer and kind of live in both places.
How did you first get into food?
First of all, in Italy, the concept of food, it's almost always this idea of homemade. It’s not that we don't have restaurants, but especially for a family that cannot afford to go to a restaurant. Also, the people that can afford to go to a restaurant, most of the time they still eat and cook at home. I'm talking about habits that are completely different than what happens in the US. We are not a big fan of fast food at all. We love slow food and at home we have a garden where I can grow potatoes, carrots, all kinds of vegetables, and spices. At home we have chickens that live behind our house that make eggs fresh every morning.
A lot of families like mine have these little farms at their houses and this is how I grew up. You know Italian food is probably the most recognised food in the world and is based on this quality of freshness. When I became a professional athlete, this idea of fresh became even more important because you have to follow a diet. And dieting for us doesn’t mean eating less, it means eating well.
And one of the best things that you can find when you go to Italy, is that you don't need to go to the best restaurant to eat well. Italy is also very seasonal in how we eat. Think about truffles, it’s the most precious thing, but you have to eat it in the right moment. There’s also a period of the year for tomatoes, carrots, and asparagus. And then of course the sea, which is all around the country gives us so many variations of fish that is just unbelievable. All of that plus the climate is why Italy is considered one of the best places to eat in the world and where I learned to love food in the first place.
Why did you want to open a restaurant in Los Angeles?
Well, first of all, I want to eat well. It doesn't mean that you don't eat well in LA, but because of my background, and because of how important I consider food, that’s the main reason. And so three years ago, I had a chance to do it in LA, and so I did it. It’s new for me because I’ve never been a restaurateur before, so it takes me a while to understand a lot of the dynamics, but I’m very proud of what I put together.
It's kind of stressful sometimes, because you put together people with different values and qualities with different needs. And then you need to deal with the customers, which is the more delicate part of the job because you want to satisfy them, and you want to be able to have amazing service and amazing food and an amazing experience, so they stay with you.
Tell us about N10. What makes it different from other Italian restaurants in Los Angeles?
I would say the quality of the food from my perspective. From day one, we were really focused on the quality of the product. As much as we can, we import from Italy – we’re talking about olive oil, pasta, rice, tomato sauce, etc. But also, I wanted a place where you can feel, you know, home. And when I say home, I mean a place where it doesn’t really matter how dressed up you are, or what time you come, just a place where you’ll always find a friend. A friend that not only gives you food, but also a nice welcome and where you’ll have a good time. This is our first principle for what we want to do.
The pandemic was obviously tough on everyone but tell us about all the charity work you’ve done with N10 during the pandemic to help the community.
We did what we can. It’s funny because you know that restaurants were one of the most hit markets but were also the most active in charity. At the same time, you have to pay bills and keep people in order to survive, so it was a tough moment. But I know a lot of restaurateurs have done a lot of charity work and helped me to do it as well. We wanted to give back to the community in the moment of need. This was a very unique moment, but our goal was if there was a way to help, then we did it. We helped out with the children’s hospital as well as other hospitals in the beginning. We also helped with the homeless. We also joined with the church and other groups who were doing these kinds of charities. Some of this work we put on social media because we wanted to inspire others to do the same thing.
Now that we’re getting close to fully re-opening, you’ve launched the N10 Collection. Tell us about it.
In this particular moment, I had more time to reflect. I came up with this idea to connect with the people that are working with us, and with different products. I wanted to create a win/win situation by connecting the brands with the people that we are working with in a different way. We’re doing this by giving the brands more visibility inside the restaurant on the menu. So, we’re also creating a marketplace where you can find the same rice we use or the same olive oil or wine we use, and it’s something that connects you with the restaurant.
What’s the goal from here? What do you want N10 to ultimately be?
We are in our third year, and we went through the most incredibly tough time for a restaurant business owner ever probably. But the goal remains the same – we want to give the customer a great experience of food, ambience, and service. This is supposed to be a place where you feel comfortable to go, where it doesn't matter who you are, or what you want to eat, or your race, or anything like that. We embrace everybody and for us, our mission is to serve the best food no matter who comes to the door.
You know, what happened this past year hit me and the restaurant business a lot. But we were able to survive and maintain our service. Of course, we want to improve day by day, but our mission is to provide the best service and the best products that you can have.